Farmer Focus: Grazing challenged by February deluge

A hectic February has seen more than 80% of the herd calve down safely, and those Christmas mince pies on the waistline are definitely a thing of the past. We’ve been working hard.

My husband, Neil, usually takes on an extra meal or two in the day to keep up with the enormous calorie-burning hit of seasonal spring calving.

Between bedding, feeding, milking and calving, step counters seem to quadruple with the effort it takes to keep up with the pace of new life arriving on the farm.

See also: How Daylesford dairy is making a margin over concentrate of 29ppl

The weather has really been a challenge. We have seen more than a quarter of the annual rainfall in the past two months, with most of it falling in February.

When you operate a grass-based system, this certainly puts a spanner in the works, but every effort was made to have some degree of grazing most days.

The diet has been made up of 3kg of a 13% ration with grazed grass and high dry matter D-value silage bales making up the remainder.

This equates to cow production of about 1.95kg milk solids a day on our once-a-day milking system.

Our cow health barometers for transitioning have been relatively good so far with very few records of ketosis, stillbirths, retained foetal membranes, metritis or displaced stomachs.

So two cases of milk fever yesterday came as a bit of a surprise. Those affected were fifth and sixth lactation cows with more than 50% Jersey genetics in their bloodlines.

The risk of milk fever increases by 9% for each lactation. This is because older cows have a decreased capacity to mobilise calcium from their bones, and Channel Islands breeds are at greater risk, also.

We are so vigilant against this and we know that the controllable factors for milk fever are body condition, magnesium supplementation, feed supply and dry matter intakes.

We aim to keep milk fever cases below 5% and hopefully that will be the case this year, too.

As always with farming, when things look to be going well, a few bumps in the road appear. But these bumps in the road keep you focused.

Gillian and Neil O’Sullivan are dairy farmers from southern Ireland. Read more.